Drone Zone: The Future of the Flying Machines

SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) – Drones are slowing buzzing their way into the hands of law enforcement and first responders. The technology is now being used to solve crimes and save lives, and as agencies learn more and more about these camera equipped flying machines, drones are expected to be the future for many companies.

Southern Manatee Fire Rescue District has a pair of drones. They’re one of the only agencies on the Suncoast with them. The tools were originally purchased to use on hazardous material scenes with gas meters on both drones. Drones allow the department to send it into the potentially dangerous scenario instead of a firefighter.

But since then, the department has found boundless uses from searching for people who are lost or finding hidden fires using thermal imaging.

For example, this pair of drones came in handy when a sulfur fire broke out at Port Manatee earlier this year. Inferred drone footage captured the fire, immediately showing firefighters where the hot spots were.

This tool’s usefulness doesn’t stop there for Southern Manatee Fire Rescue.

“If we had somebody out in the water that was drowning, and we didn’t have a boat to deploy, you could deploy the drone with a life preserver and drop it to them,” Chief Brian Gorski explains.

Some local law enforcement agencies are working on getting their own drones, according to Gorski. For now, they’re using the fire department’s.

“The average cost of a helicopter is about $700,” firefighter Rich Gatanis says. “Studies show this [drone] costs about $3.75 an hour.”

SMFR has already assisted the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office during SWAT instances with the drones.

“Before they put their officers in harms way, they wanted us to look at the building from the backside and different angles,” Gorski explains.

Drones were extremely useful in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. For example they were flown across each and every one of our Suncoast bridges to make sure that they were still structurally sound.

Even Florida Power and Light used the drones to restore power.

“After a storm we use drones to give us site of what the equipment looks like and if there’s any damage, so it takes our eyes from the ground and puts them up in the sky,” FPL spokesman Bill Orlove says.

It also expedites the restoration process.

“It goes into areas that are inaccessible, that our crews would not be able to get to quickly,” Orlove explains.

It also ensures that FPL employees aren’t going into a dangerous situation.

FPL also uses drones for everyday use like checking on solar panels spread throughout the state. They’re also used to survey manatees near the power plants.

WRA Engineering also uses the technology to survey animals. They also use drones to monitor Suncoast wetlands.

“We can identify where the invasive plant species are,” WRA Environmental Manager Matthew Miller says. “It helps us get our contractors out to be able to treat those, so that they don’t become a problem.”

Drones show engineers an entire area of land at once which would otherwise be an impossible view.

“With just about every mitigation site, we try to use it,” GSI Analyst and drone pilot for WRA Danielle Kaminski says. “Every once in a while, it’s a good backup for if we miss something, the drone catches it. So we try to use it as much as possible.”

The possibilities are endless, from patrolling beaches for sharks to scanning a crime scene for survivors. Those who use drones say, this is only the beginning. They look to the future. [Click for More]